Sunday, March 1, 2015

Welcoming Waterfowl and Snowless Snowshoeing: Winter Wings Festival, Day 1

Klamath Falls is a small town near the Oregon / California border that gave us some of our first impressions of Oregon on our drive up last April. Although we'd done our birding exclusively from the car at the time, we'd still picked up great birds like Black-billed Magpie and Common Raven. We knew we'd be back someday, given its proximity to Crater Lake, and we were happy that the occasion of our return was their annual Presidents' Day weekend birding festival a couple of weeks ago, Winter Wings.

Ruddy Duck

Common Merganser

This merganser was either practicing to be a bittern...

… or a rock star

This was only the second birding festival we'd attended, and it was considerably smaller than Florida's massive Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival. Even so, there were some great events scheduled, and the Klamath Basin is a helluva playground. We had one trip booked for our first day, but we started off our morning at lake in town at Veterans Park, just the two of us. Right away, we knew we were going to have a fantastic weekend. We got excited at the very first Common Goldeneye, which we can find in small numbers along the coast where we regularly visit, but not as close as this. Another popped up right beside it -- a female. Then another -- a first-winter male. Then another and another.

Common Goldeneye

1st winter male Common Goldeneye
Nicely illustrating the three plumages shown in Sibley. Why can't all birds do that?

Overhead, 15 or so Black-crowned Night-herons were either coming from or going to their roost site. It had been so long since we'd even seen one, so a whole flock at once was a real treat. We crossed the road, leaving the park, and hit the night-heron jackpot: their roosting site, right in someone's backyard (oh, to be so lucky) housing at least 50, and probably more. Not only that, but lots more Goldeneyes… BOTH kinds! Barrow's Goldeneyes were our first of several lifers this trip, and we saw enough of them to forever put us past our anxiety of figuring out which Goldeneye is which (I hope).

Black-crowned Night-heron

Barrow's Goldeneye

Male and female Barrow's

As for the field trip, unfortunately it largely fell casualty to our uncharacteristically mild winter. This was billed as a snowshoeing hike, with an emphasis on identifying wildlife tracks, but instead of the anticipated 3' of snow they usually enjoy, we had to settle for tramping around in the mud. It was still fun, but we'd been looking forward to snowshoeing, which would have been new for us. There were plenty of scat, bones, and hoof prints along the way, although the only mammal we actually saw was a lone coyote tracking across a field. One other notable find was a swarm of Thatch Ants that Maureen spotted. These ants can apparently construct impressively huge mounds of plant material, which we didn't manage to come across.

Mt. McLaughlin


Lichen-covered snag

I forget which ungulate this belonged to. I want to say Elk

Thatch Ant

On the way to the snowshoeing / not-snowshoeing trip, we'd passed a lake that seemed to have hundreds, if not thousands, of Tundra Swans. We filed it in the back of our minds for future use, and headed straight there once we left the return bus. Besides swans, Upper Klamath Lake was chockablock with Northern Pintails, Greater White-fronted Geese, and assorted other waterfowl. Maureen somehow managed to find a Eurasian Wigeon. I picked out a swan from the multitudes that looked bigger than the surrounding Tundras, with no yellow on the lores, that I tentatively called a Trumpeter. So far nobody's contradicted us, but feel free shatter our illusions if you see fit.

With 10 Bald Eagles patrolling the premises, its no wonder the waterfowl were jittery

Tundra Swans and Greater White-fronted Geese

Trumpeter Swan (back left) with Tundra Swans

The #1 field trip we wanted to attend at the festival was the Klamath Falls Owl Prowl. Oregon has everything from Great Gray Owl, to Northern Pygmy, Northern Saw-whet, Spotted, Flammulated… The only owls we've managed to see here in the past 9 months are species that are common enough back East (Barred and Burrowing Owls), so we were hungry for something new, and this would have been our best shot for rounding up a whole bunch of Oregon's owls in one fell swoop. Even though we registered for the festival on only the second day, the trip had already maxed out. This was a bummer, obviously, but we managed to get the inside scoop on exactly where the trip had been successful a night earlier, and we decided to head there ourselves.

Astoundingly, we'd neglected to bring a flashlight with us, so tracking one down was our first priority. Next, the drive from Klamath Falls to Klamath Marsh NWR was unexpectedly long, and we were getting nervous, since we had no assurance that we weren't going to run into any locked gates or No-Trespassing-After-Hours signs. Fortunately, neither difficulty manifested, and we took the long, straight Silver Lake Rd. into the refuge. Along the way, our car flushed a large bird from the side of the road while we drove, which took off across the dike, and over the marsh. My first throughout was night-heron, but as Maureen expertly got the light on it, we knew we had a Short-eared Owl. We'd flush three more on the way to the refuge. Try as we might, we never turned up any other species once we got to the refuge, but for us, we were happy to count our owl excursion an unqualified success!


  1. This is awesome Doc Martens--dangerous to have so many nerds gathered in one place, as it is to have so many Swans and Goldeneye, but well worth the risk it would seem.

    I hope you all get to Crater Lake soon! That is one of my all time favorite places in North America (and also very good for Clark's Nutcracker, Crossbills, and Dipper).

    1. Thank you, kindly, Laurence! I'm glad you hear you enthuse about Crater Lake with such gusto -- we've got reservations to camp there over July 4th weekend. I'd been excited just to visit the national park qua national park, but now that I know there are nutcrackers involved I wish our Founding Fathers had declared independence in April, so we could get there even sooner!

  2. Awesome outing. The swan looks good for Trumpeter. Averaging longer neck and heavier bill. Nice find. I need that as a lifer.

    1. Thanks, James. I keep worrying that someone's going to try and take it away from us; I'm glad you've got our backs!

  3. Great photos you guys! One day, I would love to get out to a bird festival -- they sound so fun.

    1. Thanks, Charlotte! You definitely should -- they're a great way to explore an area and meet interesting, like-minded people. Even small ones have a lot to offer

  4. Looks like a great first day!

    If you're looking for a fun spring festival - we had an amazing time at the Ladd Marsh festival in La Grande last year.

    1. Thanks for the tip! We're heading to Malheur the weekend after that one's scheduled, but we'll keep it in mind for next year. The other festival on our radar right now is the Birding & Blues Festival in Pacific City (also in May). It's nice to know there's no shortage of things to keep us busy this spring!